I love Maya Angelou and her work. She was such a wise soul who left behind a timeless legacy of hope and inspiration. In 1969 she published her first memoir, “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings,” in which she revealed the deep and emotional trauma of her childhood. Long before the #MeToo movement brought verbal and sexual assault into the national conversation, Angelou used her own brutal sexual assault to lift up other victims and give them a voice.
Having a voice --being seen and heard-- is what we all need most after we are fed, sheltered and clothed. Angelou realized the importance of honoring her own story and living her truth (being seen and heard) at a time when talking about such things was considered taboo. She wrote: “There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside of you. For we delight in the beauty of the butterfly, but rarely admit the changes it has gone through to achieve that beauty.”
Yet it is her 1978 poem, “Still I Rise,” that resonates most with me. Her words, “Up from a past which is rooted in pain … I rise,” are so yogic! They symbolize to me the perseverance and persistence of the lotus, a powerful yoga symbol.
The lotus has roots tethered deep in the muddy bottoms of ponds and rivers. A bud pokes through and winds its way through murky water, seeking light. It’s a slow and arduous process, but the lotus bud persists, finally breaking through and blossoming into a pristine, delicate flower. It is like the progression of our souls, and its journey inspires us to rise up from our personal darkness, oppression, fear, and pain, into enlightenment.
The lotus inspires in me an innate desire to grow in spite of obstacles and adversities I may face along my path. The cupped flower says to me that no matter how muddy the waters of my life become, I have the power to tap into my inner self, my inner power, and rise up into the Divine. It reassures me that no matter what lies ahead of me, it is not as great as the power within me.
Summer is the season of the lotus, and here in Marblehead, I often walk to Great Egret Marsh Preserve. It’s a conservancy of 150 acres of marshland which is home to waterfowl of all breeds. Majestic great egrets, blue herons, and bald eagles nest there. It’s a soul-filling place of beauty and nature and the Divine. Just beyond the tip of the marsh is a big, swampy pond known as Lost Lake. In mid-summer, the unprepossessing Lost Lake bursts into a carpet of fragrant, soft lotus flowers. It is an amazing phenomenon. The roots dig deep into the mud, but the circular green leaves and cupped white petals float freely over the obscure water.
Suffering happens; it’s part of life and none of us leave this world without our own crosses to bear. Some endure more than others; some endure long, maybe unending, suffering. Maybe your cross is illness. Loss. Addiction. Loneliness. Depression. Assault. Persecution. The journey of the lotus brings us all the gentle assurance that we can rise, we can emerge from the mud of our struggles to rest in the sunlight.
A lotus blossom has many petals that overlap and surround the center. As the large outside petals unfold, smaller petals emerge from beneath until the gilded center is revealed. In yoga, this represents our personal progress toward inner bliss and peace. I love to paddleboard in the marsh, and stop to float near a lotus patch. The golden center of the flowers reminds me of Angelou’s words that others don’t know the challenges we have gone through in order for our inner beauty to emerge.
The Lotus leads us to focus on the good that comes from our struggles. When we begin to see that our struggles unwrap our truths, then we begin to “grow through what we go through.” Hardships make us stronger. Heartbreak makes us fearless to love again. Not getting what we want makes us appreciate what we have. I believe God made us vulnerable so we would learn, evolve, make lots of mistakes, and try again and again to do it right. We are meant to mess things up royally with selfish cravings and personal desires so we can learn how to get our shit back together again. We’re here to live in chaos and contradictions until we find our center of calm and balance. Our struggles soften our edges but harden our core -- a healthy and yogic way to live!
The lotus is God’s gift, a symbol that reminds us that sometimes we have to fail before we succeed and we have to doubt ourselves before we learn how to love ourselves. I sure don’t think it’s a coincidence that I live near a watery field of lotus!
The photo above is me alongside friends and fellow email blasters, Kathleen Tuthill and Tina Ingraham. We are basking in the marsh’s peace and beauty, yet it is an ironic scene. We have all three followed the path of the lotus in our struggles to rise from the mud only to float in the sunshine.
We are all cancer survivors. We are all yogis. One of us is married to a man in recovery, whose perseverance helped him rise from the mud of addiction. One of us has been through a divorce and struggled financially to raise a child alone. Two of us have struggled with infertility. Two of us raised (or are raising) teen-agers. One of us has lost both parents. One of us is a #MeToo survivor. Two of us have endured physical or verbal abuse from an aggressor. We all have been crushed by life. Losing coveted jobs. Mourning friends. Working through anxiety. Holding the hand of a parent slipping away. Hearing the brutal words of a cancer diagnosis. The slam of a door when hopes are dashed forever.
Our struggles have brought the three of us together, our friendship the good that has come from pain. We know our struggles aren’t over, that we will be mired in mud yet again, but we have learned that remaining a bud is more painful than the risk of blooming. Still … We Rise.
Lovelies, take a few moments to settle into a lotus meditation. Close your eyes, think of your heart as a closed lotus blossom. One by one, open the petals. Imagine a moment of gratitude as each petal unfolds. Finally, envision the golden center of the lotus; let it warm you with a gentle peace.